Culture as an Engine of Local Development Processes: System-Wide Cultural Districts I: Theory

Building on the early works of Alfred Marshall, analyses of local economies have emphasized the spatial function of clusters and industrial districts in terms of external economies of localization and agglomeration. Recent literature has emphasized the importance of culture and the complementarities between culture and local tangible and intangible assets. This paper aims to provide an analytical foundation for these processes with a view to developing tools for policy design, analysis and evaluation. By “system-wide cultural districts,” we refer to a new approach to local development where cultural production and participation present significant strategic complementarities with other production chains. In this view, culture drives the accumulation of intangible assets such as human, social, and cultural/symbolic capital, thereby fostering economic and social growth and environmental sustainability.

Published in Growth and Change Vol. 44 No. 4 (December 2013), pp. 555–570

From the Conclusions (excerpt)
(…) We presented the basic tenets of a new approach to culture-led local development where the role of culture is not about being one sector among many, as in the traditional models of cultural districts or clusters, but in which it becomes the driving force able to move the local system into a new regime of sustained and participative innovation and capability building.
Embracing the challenge of innovation and of knowledge-intensive value creation processes is essential for economically advanced countries that want to maintain a strong competitive edge. This emphasis on the structural role of culture in development dynamics calls for a different notion of a cultural district, which is no longer limited to the activities of cultural players per se, but rather includes the capacity of culture to activate positive feedback dynamics that enhance the local system’s capacity to produce, circulate, access information, and symbolic content. The SWCD notion tries to address this analytical and policy challenge and aspires to be the basis for the formulation of a new generation of policy approaches.(…).

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